How Open-Minded Are Jewish Liberals?

Jewish liberals, like other liberals, believe that there are three positive traits that describe liberals far more accurately than they describe conservatives — compassionate, intellectual and open-minded.

Though I am a Jewish conservative, I don’t believe that either side has anything close to a monopoly on compassion. There are compassionate Jews who are conservative and compassionate Jews who are liberal. As regards being intellectual, I acknowledge that there are more Jewish intellectuals who are liberal — since there are a lot more Jewish liberals, there will be a lot more liberal Jewish intellectuals. But I doubt that the percentage of Jewish liberals who are intellectuals is greater than the percentage of Jewish conservatives who are intellectuals.

My area of disagreement concerns the third self-defining liberal trait — open-mindedness. Whether Jew or gentile, open-minded is not a trait one could fairly identify with contemporary liberals. As this is a Jewish newspaper, I will confine my comments to Jews.

Before proceeding, let me offer three thoughts to help the liberal reader not take offense.

First, I mean no offense. I want to challenge the Jewish liberal, not to offend him (or her).

Second, I am generalizing, and therefore I readily acknowledge that there are open-minded Jewish liberals.

Third, if you, dear reader, are a Jewish liberal who prides him- or herself on being open-minded, one way to demonstrate this is to read what follows.

How would a Jewish liberal describe a fellow Jew who was raised in an Orthodox home, went to Orthodox Jewish schools from kindergarten through college and attended Orthodox summer camps, who socializes overwhelmingly with fellow Orthodox Jews and confines his reading largely to religious texts? A Jewish liberal would probably describe such a person as almost brainwashed, at worst, and unlikely to be open-minded, at best.

But doesn’t this describe most Jewish liberals? The vast majority of Jewish liberals were raised in a liberal home, taught by liberal teachers in high school and by liberal professors in college; they socialize overwhelmingly with fellow liberal Jews and get their news from liberal newspapers (The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, etc.) and from liberal electronic media (ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, etc.).

In terms of open-mindedness, what is the difference between these two types of Jews? (If anything, I would bet that the average Orthodox Jew has to defend his belief in God and Orthodoxy more often than the average Jewish liberal has to defend his liberalism.)

The answer, of course, is that there is no appreciable difference. If the Jewish liberal regards Orthodox Jews as described here as having been almost brainwashed, Jewish liberals need to see that the term applies equally to them. And almost brainwashed or not, the fact is that the Orthodox Jew from birth is overwhelmingly likely to live out his life as an Orthodox Jew and the Jewish liberal from birth is overwhelmingly likely to live out his life as a liberal.

This parallel is even more accurate once one acknowledges that Jewish liberals hold onto their liberalism with the same fervor and true belief that Orthodox Jews hold onto theirs.

On what grounds, then, can most Jewish liberals claim to be open-minded?

I can personally attest to the closed-mindedness among Jewish liberals. Despite having written two best-selling Jewish books and hundreds of articles on Jewish issues, and having lectured to virtually every major Jewish organization in North America for 35 years, and despite the fact that I have been an active member of a Reform synagogue for 20 years, I am almost never invited to speak at a Reform synagogue. I don’t take it personally — it isn’t personal. The Reform movement is essentially closed to politically conservative speakers even if, as in my case, they would be happy to speak only on Judaism. There is every reason to believe that far more Reform temples would invite a fervent Muslim speaker before a fervent conservative Jewish one.

Another example: Last year I was invited to be the speaker at the annual banquet of a Jewish day school in liberal Northern California. I have a 30-year record of raising funds for Jewish day schools and persuading Jewish parents to send their children to day schools. Nevertheless, the invitation was rescinded because some liberal members of the school’s board would not allow a prominent Jew who was known to be a conservative to speak — even though the entire talk would have been about supporting Jewish day schools. They actually threatened to withdraw financial support from the school unless the invitation was rescinded. Their view is that only liberals can speak at that school, just as only liberals can speak at almost any Reform synagogue. Open-minded?

Contrast this with the fact that two years ago, the Orthodox Union invited me, a non-Orthodox Jew, to address its annual West Coast convention. That would have been impressive enough. But far more impressive was the subject I was asked to speak on: “Why I am not Orthodox.” It is inconceivable that the Reform movement’s convention would invite me to speak on anything, let alone on why I am not a liberal, or why I believe Judaism is consonant with conservative American values. I have spoken at both the Orthodox and Conservative movement’s conventions, but despite my being active in a Reform congregation, it is probable that the Moshiach will come before I am invited to the Reform movement’s convention.

I can easily acknowledge many fine traits among my fellow Jews who are liberal. Open-mindedness is just not one of them.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, columnist, author and public speaker. He can be heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) weekdays 9 a.m. to noon. His Web site is